As a coach and instructor, when I inquire as to a player’s ability or level in the sport of pickleball, I often feel like a contestant on that show. I have to ask a bunch of questions to try to figure out their actual level of play!
In pickleball, the USAPA is now utilizing a rating system much like the USTA has in tennis. It is a numerical rating from 1 to 5, which is divided into half values, 2.5, 3.0, 3.5, etc. The definition of these individual levels can be found online through the USAPA website at usapa.org, but I am going to put it all into layman’s terms.As with any athletic competition, while the fundamentals, theories and strategies of a specific game exists for all players, there is a difference between the professional and recreational levels of play.
For instance, let’s take the sport of golf. While I may understand and comprehend (strategically speaking) how a specific golf course or hole should be played, as a recreational golfer (even from the senior tee box) I simply do not retain the skills or abilities to execute the type of shots required to play the course/hole as one of the pros on TV would on Sunday afternoon. However, with proper instruction, and a lot of dedicated training and practice, I can play the course/hole to the best of my capabilities and feel satisfied with my results.
The same is true with the sport of pickleball. Beginning and even intermediate level players simply do not retain the skills or abilities to execute the type of shots required to play the point the way the pros would. However, this does not mean that players can’t utilize and execute the same basic mentalities and strategies as the pros.
OK, so with that all in agreement, now let’s qualify ourselves in regards to the expectations of skills and strategies required to be able to successfully and enjoyably compete on the three basic levels of play in pickleball. I will refer to these as beginner, intermediate and advance level players.
For beginner players, it can be as simple as a group of four players just being able to successfully hit a serve, a return, and a return of the return, and just get a point underway, without making an error and missing one of those three basic shots. At this point in a pickleball player’s career, the challenge is to keep the ball in play and not lose too many points from making mistakes.
Players at this level (because of their lack of playing experience) may still be confused with scoring, and are frequently (unknowingly) out of position, both at the start of, as well as during, the point. As beginner players improve their skills and get in more playing time, they begin to unconsciously position themselves in correct accordance with the score and whose turn it is to serve.
I want to make a basic fact abundantly clear: In any sport, beginner level players need to learn the proper fundamentals of stroke production from a qualified instructor if they want to improve and move on to more advanced levels of play.
Ok, so we’ve been playing pickleball on a regular basis and we are hooked on the sport. We have taken Coach Wayne’ s advice and have worked on our fundamentals, improved our skills, devoted time to practice and drills, and are ready to advance to intermediate level play.
So let’s move on to the dedicated, intermediate level player. As just stated, these players are hopefully diligently working on achieving and conquering the ability to execute sound fundamental strokes. They should NOT be making unforced errors on the first three shots of the point! They should attempt to play and finish off points in the kitchen. Players at this level should be beginning to comprehend and execute their abilities to take speed off the ball and utilize the fundamental strategy of the third shot scenario to get themselves to the kitchen in an offensively strategic position.
And finally, as in all sports, if you are competing on the advanced level of the game, you must have the experience and confidence to be able to execute all shots, under any strategic circumstance. Players at this level of the game have the ability/ sensibility to vary their game plan and strategies in accordance to the strategies they are being challenged with from their opponents. These players have confidence in their abilities, which they can rely on under pressure, when the chips are down.
There is an old saying in tennis, that when it comes down to the big points, the great ones don’t necessarily play any better, they just don’t play worse! They don’t choke! They strike the ball on championship point with the same amount of confidence as if it was just another point in the middle of the first set.
The great thing about pickleball is that a beginner player does not have to devote a lot of time to learn the basic fundamentals to be able to successfully participate in the game. Anybody and everybody can play and compete.
I frequently have players who sign up for my beginner pickleball clinics who openly admit that they have never participated in any type of competitive sports in their entire lives, but they want to play pickleball because all of their friends are now playing. After just a few clinics, I have been able to teach them the proper fundamentals of strokes and the understanding of the rules of the game, and they can come out and participate in daily rotational play at The Racquet Center. From this point, they can take their game to any level they want to challenge themselves with!
My last piece of advice for all you beginner level players: Don’t be intimidated by higher level players, because honestly, for the most part, nobody has been playing pickleball for more than just a few years.
If you are a beginner player and someone in your group of players gives you an attitude that you are not a good enough player to be playing with their group, find yourself another group!
I discovered a long time ago in tennis, and I have recently rediscovered it again in pickleball, that no matter how good a player I think I am, there is always someone out there who is better. I have also rediscovered that if someone is really that good a player, they won’t mind playing with someone who may not be at their level of play (yet), but who is determined and devoted to taking their game to the next level.
So figure out, what’s your line? How far do you want to take your game? But most importantly, just enjoy the fun of playing the game, competing with friends and staying healthy, all at the same time.
Wayne Clark is a certified professional tennis instructor with over 25 years experience coaching players on all levels of the game. Wayne is also qualified in pickleball instruction. He has been the head instructor at The Marco Island Racquet Center since 2001. The Racquet Center offers clinics, private and group lessons for both tennis and pickleball. Coach Wayne’s Island Kids Tennis/Sports Juniors programs run year round, and offer classes for players ranging from kindergarten through high school. Contact Coach Wayne by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone or text at 239-450-6161.